Nestled in Washington’s scenic Palouse region, Pullman beckons visitors with a laid-back vibe and beautiful scenery. Home to Washington State University (WSU), the city’s downtown core is surrounded by rolling hills that turn from lush, vibrant green in spring to cozy warm golden tones in fall. Each summer, Pullman celebrates its agricultural roots during the National Lentil Festival. From college football to famous cheese and stunning vistas, there’s plenty to do in Pullman.

Things to Do In Pullman Washington

Get Outside

Thanks to its location in the Palouse, gorgeous views are in ample supply. Explore multiple city parks and the Pullman Riverwalk in town, or drive about 20 minutes to Kamiak Butte. Park at the dog-friendly trailhead and embark on a 3.5-mile roundtrip trek that winds up the hillside through grass meadows and forested sections. At the top, the hills seemingly go on forever.

Consider a round of golf at Palouse Ridge Golf Course or take a stroll through Lawson Gardens to view its impressive rose garden. Spend the morning wandering the WSU Arboretum, where you’ll find trails winding across 170 acres. This is also a great place for bird watching. Keep an eye out for everything from quail to bald eagles and belted kingfishers.

Prefer to explore the area on two wheels? Bike the Bill Chipman Palouse Trail, a 7-mile paved trail that runs from Pullman into the neighboring town of Moscow, Idaho.

Explore Culture & History

Near downtown, the Pullman Depot Heritage Center preserves the history of the Northern Pacific Railroad that first came to town in 1887. Passenger trains ran up until the 1960s, playing a significant role in the town and university’s history. Visit on Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. when the freight room is open to the public to view exhibits and learn more about railroad history in the area.

The WSU campus offers a variety of sites and museums open to the public. The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art houses a permanent collection of more than 4,000 works of art, along with rotating exhibitions across a variety of mediums highlighting national and local artists. Admission is free and open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, with more limited hours during the summer months. A short walk through campus, the Conner Museum is another highlight with an extensive display of more than 700 taxidermy mounts of mammals and birds.

Looking for an indoor activity to do with the kids? Head to the Palouse Discovery Science Center on the North end of town. You’ll find a variety of hands-on, sensory exhibits and activities such as the Imagination Playground made up of moveable blocks.

View the Bears

Three grizzly bears at the WSU Bear Center in Pullman WA
WSU Bear Center. | Photo courtesy of Visit Pullman

On the Eastern edge of the WSU campus, you can drive up to the WSU Bear Center, a grizzly bear research, education, and conservation center. From April to October, bears are visible from a viewing area in the parking lot. They can often be found splashing in their pool or playing in the yard during the warmer months.

Drive the Palouse Scenic Byway

One of the top things to do in Pullman is soak in the beautiful countryside, and the best way to do that is by driving the Palouse Scenic Byway. The byway travels multiple roads throughout Eastern Washington, passing through picturesque farmland and small towns.

Choose to start in Pullman and head north on Highway 195 to the town of Colfax or continue all the way up to Spokane. You could also drive up Highway 27 to Palouse, or head south on Highway 195 toward Clarkston. If you love waterfalls, consider heading west on Highway 26 before connecting south to Highway 261, which will take you to Washington’s stunning official state waterfall, Palouse Falls.

Don’t miss Steptoe Butte State Park, which boasts a 200-mile view of farmland and the surrounding mountains.

Shop and Eat Local

A server hands a customer a scoop of ice cream at Ferdinand's
Photo courtesy of Washington State University

If you love cheese, don’t leave Pullman without purchasing some Cougar Gold cheese. The famed cheese is made by students in the university’s agriculture and food science programs, and it has been a Washington staple for over 70 years. The cheddar is preserved and aged in large cans and can be found at the on-campus Ferdinand’s Creamery shop. While you’re there, don’t skip on a scoop (or two) of local ice cream flavors like huckleberry ripple or “Apple Cup” crisp.

Downtown, browse boutique shops such as Kure & Co. for clothing, décor, specialty foods, and self-care items. Down the street, pop into A Modern Plantsman, a beautiful green-filled plant shop. Take home a new plant or schedule a workshop to learn macrame basics, how to build terrariums, or make a seasonal centerpiece.

Kick the day off with a sweet treat from Dom’s Donuts — a donut truck parked next to the Pullman Depot Heritage Center. Walk up to the window or order online for fresh, warm vanilla cake donuts dressed up with toppings such as maple icing and bacon, cinnamon sugar, or a cookies and cream donut with vanilla icing and Oreo cookie crumbles.

For lunch, head to the Lumberyard Food Hall, which offers multiple restaurants under one roof. Grab a pulled pork rice bowl from Island Grill, a Bacon Blue burger from Timber, or your favorite roll from Mang’s Sushi. The space also has a gaming area and seating on the patio. Looking for a milkshake to pair with a burger and fries? Cougar Country Drive In has been a Pullman institution since 1973. Pair banana and peanut butter for the ultimate shake flavor combo, or give orange a try for a take on a creamsicle. You’ll also find drive-in classics such as other sandwiches and chicken strip baskets.

To quench your thirst, head to cougar-owned Paradise Creek Brewery, which started in 2010 in the town’s historic Post Office building before needing to expand production to a bigger space. Now, the brewery has two locations including a taproom at the brewery, along with the restaurant still housed in their original location. Stop in for a bite paired with a brew at the downtown restaurant or enjoy one of their many sour beers on the taproom patio. 

James Beard finalist The Black Cyprus opened in 2009. You’ll find a beautiful dining room set against exposed red brick walls dotted with dim lighting. Pair that ambiance with a menu including carbonara with housemade bacon, succulent roast chicken, craft cocktails, and an extensive wine list to accompany the meal, and you have a wonderfully refined experience set in a small town.

Prefer outdoor seating for dinner? Birch and Barley offers both patio and indoor options for a more casual meal with a focus on American classics with a Southern flair. Find seafood options on the menu including shrimp or crawfish etouffee or opt for a garlic and herb ribeye with a side of Cougar Gold mac and cheese.

Attend the National Lentil Festival

Volunteers at the National Lentil Festival
Photo Credit: The National Lentil Festival

While WSU hosts sporting events, theater performances, and concerts, Pullman’s most notable event is the National Lentil Festival, held annually in August. The community festival honors the Palouse as a prime growing region for lentils with a two-day celebration. You’ll find a grand parade, a fun run, a lentil cooking competition, cooking demos, a beer garden, and more.

During the summer months, head to the Pine Street Plaza in downtown for Music on Main. The live music nights run every Thursday from June through August.

Stay the Night

To make the most of your time exploring Pullman and the Palouse region, be sure to stay the night. Hotel McCoy makes a great home base. The pet-friendly hotel has breathed new life into an old space and has a fun, vintage vibe. Guests can enjoy an art gallery featuring local artists, an on-site wine bar and bottle shop, a grilled cheese bistro, and a regular line-up of live music and outdoor movies. Other nearby options include the Courtyard by Marriott or the newly renovated Hampton Inn.

About the Author

Molly Allen is a freelance food and travel writer, hiker, and paddleboarder who has spent more than 14 years exploring the Pacific Northwest. When she’s not playing outside, you’ll find her perfecting her homemade pizza craft. Her work can be seen in Travel & Leisure, Wine Enthusiast, Business Insider, Taste of Home, and other publications.